With free agency upon us, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in a bit of a state of flux in terms of what direction their franchise is heading. Kevin Love reportedly wants out of Minnesota, which is the giant elephant in the room for the Timberwolves.
Their general manager, Flip Saunders, hired himself to coach the team after the retirement of Rick Adelman, and Saunders is not too keen on moving Kevin Love at this moment. Other teams have been pelting the Timberwolves with reported trade offers, so options have been presented for Love, from the Golden State Warriors’ veteran-heavy package to the Cleveland Cavaliers offering the No. 1 overall pick.
However, the Timberwolves have not been impressed by any of these offers, and Love is still a Timberwolf for the time being.
If Love isn’t traded within the next month, it’s likely the Timberwolves will have to unload him at the trade deadline, and try to make one last playoff push in an attempt to convince him to stay long-term. To do that, improvements will have to be made to one of the league’s most oft-injured rosters from the last two seasons, a roster that has disappointed partly because of injuries and partly because of playing below expectations.
However, to do that, the Timberwolves would have to get very creative with their cap situation in order to make any significant moves. The Timberwolves already have 13 players on guaranteed contracts for the 2014-15 season, including 2014 first-round pick Zach LaVine.
In order to make any moves this summer, they’ll have to figure out some way to get under the salary cap of $63.2 million. Here are the Timberwolves’ current commitments for the 2014-15 season, via Shamsports:
|Luc Mbah a Moute||$4,382,576|
The Timberwolves will be over the cap by about $2.8 million, and that is before you factor in Lavine’s contract and cap holds for Dante Cunningham, Robbie Hummel, and Othyus Jeffers. These cap holds total up to just less than $7.8 million, to put the T’Wolves at $73.8 million in salaries and cap holds prior to free agency.
This amount can be reduced, of course; Minnesota can renounce Cunningham, Hummel, and Jeffers and remove the holds, but with Lavine’s contract, the Wolves would still be at $67.7 million.
With about $4.5 million to clear before Minnesota would be at the cap, the Timberwolves would need to use their exceptions to sign any remaining players. This doesn’t work out for the T’Wolves, as their exceptions were used last summer to sign Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf.
The Timberwolves have $416,000 of their bi-annual exception left, and $650,000 of their mid-level exception left. That’s barely enough between them to sign a veteran’s minimum contract, which is not worth the time to attempt.
The main way for the T’Wolves to improve this summer appears to be via trade, even if that trade does not involve Kevin Love. If they attempt this, they are helped by a few expiring contracts and trade exceptions.
Mbah a Moute, Barea, and Turiaf are expiring contracts, representing about $10.3 million in fairly easily movable assets for Minnesota to work with. They could tack another $1.1 million onto that total using small trade exceptions gained from the Derrick Williams trade with Sacramento and the trade of the 26th pick in the 2013 draft with Golden State.
The main hurdles to using these is that the Timberwolves would likely have to give up some combination of young players and draft picks in any trade, as the expirings would still have to play a full season for their new team, and Barea, Mbah a Moute, and Turiaf don’t exactly strike teams as valuable one-year rentals. Minnesota doesn’t have a ton of young assets or picks, so they’ll likely want to retain the pieces they do have, like Dieng and Muhammad.
After all, the Timberwolves have been rejecting Love trade offers due to lack of young assets and picks in the return, so the idea that they would ship off the ones they have is one to be skeptical of.
With so much money tied up in their current roster, and so few exceptions and attractive movable parts, the Timberwolves do not have many options outside of blowing their ship up by trading Love. If they want to improve and keep Love this season to attempt a final playoff push, they most likely will have to solely rely on improvement from their current roster to do so.
The plus side of their roster is that this is possible; after all, the Timberwolves have spent the last two years riddled by injuries and close-game woes, which should regress to the mean, and improvement from Rubio, Dieng, and Muhammad could be enough to put them into the playoff picture. However, the team would probably like to make a big move in order to ensure this happens, and without the means to do so, they likely will instead look to pull the trigger on a Love trade.